Zachariah Carter

Beauty and the Bad Argument

I really debated whether to enter the fray on Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast. Between mommy blogs and Christian commentators, what could I add to the conversation that will edify anyone? Then, I encountered an impressively bad argument.

The internet is not a place renown for syllogisms; in fact, not even two months ago, reduction ad Hiterlum’s[1] were everywhere on my Facebook page. I didn’t care to weigh in then because I assumed that everyone was simply suspending reason and arguing from hyperbole to suggest that the modern populist uprising in the Republican Party was synonymous with Nuremberg in 1933. I was wrong. People had either forgotten what fascism was, or—I suspect—they never knew what it was in the first place.

I really debated whether to enter the fray on Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast. Between mommy blogs and Christian commentators, what could I add to the conversation that will edify anyone? Then, I encountered an impressively bad argument. I’m even cautious to mention this fact, but it helps ground the issue as something to which I’m personally responding. I really care for the person who I saw first use the arguement, and I would never want that one to feel shamed. This is not a response to the person. See, I thought it was an isolated event, so I posted a quick reply only to later see three rather remarkable events unfold. First, I found the reply to my post rather untenable, which I will address below. Second, I was taken aback by the applause. Third, I was truly dumbfounded that the argument had taken off to become a meme.

Before I show the cards, let me say a few things: I recognize that it takes some hubris to point out bad comparisons and bad arguments, so I’m writing with a tenor that is much more casual than you’ll find in my other posts. I’m just a friend having a conversation with you. Also, I’m unconcerned with what you see with respect to movies. I think that a wise parent who walks in the counsel of the Lord will make the right decision for what is best for their family. Finally, I’m not necessarily even addressing the content that started the firestorm in the first place. I guess when it comes down to it, I’m ranting about a bad argument.

In five different places, I’ve seen this argument in a few variations, but it basically runs like this: A. Belle is a human, and beast is an animal. B. Their love is bestiality. C. Therefore, parents have no grounds to object to LeFou’s crush on Gaston.

Honestly, this must be one of the worst arguments I’ve ever seen. There are honestly so many problems with its construction that I have had a hard time sitting down and thinking how to address its incredulity.

First, it’s a non-sequitur. C simply does not follow from AB.

Imbedded within the argument is an attempt to construct an absurdity. In other words, the argument tries to show that objecting parents are majoring on the minor and somehow missing the “obvious transspecies love.” By constructing an absurdity, the user attempts to show a gross hypocrisy in the objection. Give me a break.

This argument is a demonstrated ignorance of literary devices. Beast is not actually a beast; he is a human being who is trapped in the form of a beast. In literature, magic—curses, in view—functions to temporarily suspend reason in order to allow for a bit of cognitive dissonance. This is particularly common in children’s novels.[2] In that cognitive dissonance, we allow an author to create a reality that we’d otherwise consider totally implausible—like, for example, a man being cursed into the form of a beast because he refuses shelter to an old lady. This is why the first scene is of Beast being cursed, in order that the audience learns a bit of dramatic irony that Belle does not initially figure out. The curse forces the representation of Beast’s internal character. He was a beast before the curse—only now we can all see who he really is.

This, incidentally, is why the Disney illustrators did not illustrate him like an animal, but made him beastly. Beast lives in a castle. He has maids and butlers. He even has a library to show Belle. The Beast is not an animal, but an illustration of what lied within the heart of the man cursed before he met Belle.

Belle and the Beast’s love is not bestiality. That is one of the most ludicrous things that I’ve read on the internet ever, and I’m rather annoyed to see it take off as a meme among those in their late teens and early twenties. It demonstrates to me that a demographic raised on so-called reality television and educational programing really cannot made educated observations about reality.

So, why is the argument bad?  Apart from the aforementioned non-sequitur, the purpose of the argument is to discredit anyone who would have moral objections to seeing a film that shows a homosexual crush. The “argument” is not actually an argument, and that is the problem. It can’t be squared up and evaluated on the same terms as another argument could.

Let’s be clear: it is okay that people would object to Disney capitalizing on a cultural moment. Let’s be clear about something else: LGBT folk should really chastise Disney for this decision too. Disney is not acting out of courage. This “exclusively gay moment” comes more than four years after Windsor vs. US and more than two years after Obergefell vs. Hodges. At least seven films released since then could have been adapted to feature a gay moment. I’m not saying they should release a film like this; I’m just suggesting they’ve never acted out of courage on the issue and they don’t deserve applause.

So, let’s all call a spade a spade: Disney is not brave; parents are well within their right to object; and the argument to discredit objections is a really bad one.

[1] I thought I was being clever by coining this, since Godwin’s Law didn’t fit the syntax, but apparently Leo Strauss coined the term in 1951. Missed it by a few decades.

[2] To this point, I highly recommend this fascinating article: “Why the British Tell Better Children’s Stories,” The Atlantic.

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